PHOENIX — With runners on second and third base with two outs in the top of the seventh, everything would come down to the final out for the No. 9 Sunnyside Blue Devils at the Rose Mofford Complex.
Trailing the No. 5 Lake Havasu Knights 2-1, the opportunity to rally was right at their fingertips.
As the ball popped off the bat and into the air, a collective melody of both groans and cheers came from the crowd as the game officially came to a close.
“My hat goes off to the pitcher of Lake Havasu,” Sunnyside coach Pete Palomarez said. “She threw a beautiful ball game, and I take nothing away from them winning the ball game. They’re well behaved, well coached and I enjoyed playing them.”
Pitching an absolutely outstanding game, freshman Tatyana Vega fought until the very end to keep things tight, showing tremendous composure and mental grit.
The first three innings were scoreless, with batters struggling to get anything off either pitcher. It wasn’t until the top of the fourth inning when the Blue Devils were finally able to generate some energy on the field, bringing the heat for the Knights.
Leading things off for Sunnyside with a double was junior Alyssa Lopez, bringing up Vega, who sacrifice bunted Lopez over to third. Soleil Ponce followed with a hit toward first base that resulted in a two-base error, allowing Lopez to cross home plate and put Ponce in scoring position.
Sophomore Lauryn Carbajal followed with a single, but Ponce was tagged out trying to cross home, giving Sunnyside its first out of the inning. Carbajal managed to steal second, but it wouldn’t make a difference as the Blue Devils would leave its remaining runners stranded on base.
Lake Havasu came out ready to counter in the bottom of the fourth. Despite starting things out with a ground out, a walked batter followed by a double off an error allowed the Knights to quickly get two runners in scoring position with only one out.
Convening for a meeting in the circle, Sunnyside attempted to get things under control and allow Vega a chance to reset.
Unfortunately, Vega wasn’t able to get ahead of the pitch count and walked the next batter, loading the bases with only one out. The next batter followed up with a single, splitting second base and the short stop allowing two runners to cross home before tossing out the third on her way there.
Vega followed up with a strong close to the inning, getting a strikeout to bring the team back to the dugout.
Going into the top of the fifth, Sunnyside was itching to rally back. After sophomore Tatiana Solano was walked to start things off, Ponce followed it up with another single. Sophomore Amerika Lopez was next in the lineup, putting down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners while picking up the first out.
Unfortunately, the Blue Devils had a ground out and a strikeout to pick up the remaining two outs and leave runners stranded on base.
Vega’s strengths came to light in the fifth inning, where she powered her way through with a ground out followed by consecutive strikeouts to shut down any opportunity of Lake Havasu extending the lead.
With a ground out to start the top of the sixth, the intensity was starting to increase for the remaining ladies in the lineup. A base hit followed by a walk put runners on first and second, but Sunnyside once again struggled to get a hit off of the Knights’ dominant pitcher.
Remaining focused, Sunnyside’s defensive efforts on the diamond brought up a quick three outs to end the sixth inning. With only three outs left to win the game, the Blue Devils gave it their best efforts but couldn’t battle back to overcome the Knights.
While it’s a tough loss for the Blue Devils, there’s still a glowing aura of positivity surrounding the future direction of the program. With only three seniors on the team, a majority of the girls playing major roles were only freshmen and sophomores. After making tremendous strides during the season alone, Palomarez knows they have the potential to really continue transforming their game.
“We’re gonna be back, and we’re going to be stronger,” Palomarez said. “I’m very proud of each and every one of these girls. A lot of people didn’t expect much from us because we were so young. We surprised a lot of people. Next year, I don’t think we’re going to be surprising anyone. They’re going to be ready.”
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @LittWithBritt